U.N. Estimates 60,000 Dead In Syria

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 2 2013 10:43 AM

The Violence in Syria Is Even Worse Than Everyone Thought

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Rebel fighters evacuate a colleague injured when a tank round smashed into their positions on November 20, 2012, in the town of Maaret al-Numan in southern Idlib province

Photo by John Cantlie/AFP/Getty Images.

Just how bad has the violence been in Syria been over the past 21 months? According to the U.N.'s latest death toll estimate, it looks even worse than we'd thought: More than 60,000 people have died since March 2011, U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay said today. It's the first time the U.N.'s figures have been higher than those tallied by opposition groups. 

Pillay called the number "truly shocking," noting, "the number of casualties is much higher than we expected." The 60,000 figure is an estimate based on a five-month study that resulted in a list of 59,648 people killed from March 2011 to the end of November of this year, Reuters explains. In a year, the average monthly dead jumped from 1,000 in the summer of 2011 to 5,000.

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The death toll is even higher than an estimate released by the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights yesterday. According to the group, 46,068 people have been killed since the conflict began. As CNN noted, the vast majority of those tallied by the organization were killed in 2012, yet another indicator of an increase in intensity that provides an ominous start to a new year of violence in the country.

Pillay parlayed the study's findings into a condemnation of the international community's lack of action concerning the conflict. "Collectively, we have fiddled at the edges while Syria burns," she said, according to the Associated Press.

In reality, the actual number of people killed in the conflict is probably even higher than either estimate. The U.N. discarded reports of deaths that were incomplete, and noted that many deaths may not have been documented at all. Pillay's spokesperson put it this way to the AP: "There are many names not on the list for people who were quietly shot in in the woods."

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.

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